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A chief in D.C. agrees with me

By Debbie Leffler • Dec 27, 2017 at 3:00 PM

I read with great interest the front page story in a recent issue of the Reflector about the man who created a huge, edible gingerbread house replica of the Capitol building.

I hope you saw it, too.

For one thing, this man grew up in Norwalk and later moved to Monroeville. Now, he’s the “senior executive chef” of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

Much as I love it that many people who grow up here end up staying here, I also love to know about people who grew up here and left to make their way successfully in other places.

I never even knew that the House of Representatives had a “senior executive chef.” But this guy graduated from Ehove’s culinary program and look where he is now.

More impressively, I looked at the picture of that giant gingerbread house Capitol building. It’s seven feet high, and includes 1,500 pieces of candy and five gallons of icing — so the story in the Reflector said.

The creator — Fred Johnson III — said it took him six weeks to make, and he would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it.

Very impressive.

What really made me excited about this story was that he described his job as chef with the word “passion.”

He said in the story that “We underestimate the power of food. It wasn’t that I was just making food; I was putting passion and creativity in everything I do.”

Wow — passion and cooking. It’s not just me, then.

I know I’m a writer and an English teacher, but I, too, feel passionate about cooking.

Cooking is my safe place, my happy place. I think at night about what I am going to cook the next day. I savor the act of cooking — all those wonderful verbs it involves like frying, sautéing, boiling, mixing, chopping, dicing, whipping, beating, and of course tasting. Some of these words sound a bit violent — but then, there is passion in cooking. That proves it.

It’s not just that I like to eat — although that is the end result. It is the actual act of creating the food. It’s not just cooking; it’s creating.

No, I have never made a gingerbread replica of a building. And some of my creations are rather mundane — grilled cheese, for example. But cooking involves first going through my mind and picturing cookies and soups and stews from the past, finding the well-used bowls, pots and pans on my shelves, sometimes locating a recipe, finding the ingredients, and creating the meal.

When my mother passed away, and my siblings and I chose things we wanted to take that would remind us of her, I took a set of her glass mixing bowls — of no value to anyone, really. A large yellow one and a smaller green one. But they hold memories of learning to cook by watching at her elbows, and what an honor it was when she let me help.

Memories and joy all bound up in the act of cooking — oh, and as an adult, I don’t have to cook anything I didn’t like as a child. You will never see me cook liver, a dish my mother made because she thought it was important that we have a meal with “iron” in it, no matter how much that liver made me gag, unable to swallow it.

Passion and cooking — yes.

Sometimes when my children call me on the phone, it’s not to say “How are you, Mom?” It’s to ask me to send them a certain recipe, or sometimes they’re at the grocery store and want to know what to do when they can’t find an ingredient for a recipe I used to make.

I am honored by those calls. So my legacy, perhaps, is food. That’s OK with me. Cooking is creative. Cooking involves passion. There’s a chef in Washington, D.C., who agrees with me on that.

Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]

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